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The Seahawks’ draft philosophy narrows the pool at running back

NFL Combine - Day 3 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The running back position is a topic of contention surrounding the Seattle Seahawks. It’s a position that’s extremely important to Pete Carroll and the team - something that was reaffirmed in Carroll’s end of season press conference - as well as being a position they address in the draft often. However, running the football isn’t something they’ve done well in recent seasons, and it regularly set the offense back in 2017. Regardless of the perceived (lack of) value of running backs in the modern NFL, Seattle has a very clear model in regards to what they target at the position.

The Seahawks’ ideals for cornerbacks (32” arms) and offensive lineman (31” vertical/27 reps/9’ broad) are well known. But Seattle has rough parameters at almost every position; certain size and testing numbers are required if the Seahawks are going to consider drafting a given player. Running backs drafted by Seattle have to possess good size - between 5100-6010 and 215-230 pounds - and test well in explosion drills, meaning a vertical jump of 35” and a broad jump of 10’. Finally, speed isn’t hugely important, but they have to be functional — it can be put at sub-4.65 seconds. Here is how all the running backs drafted or signed as a rookie free agent by the Seahawks since 2010 stack up:

A couple notes:

  • Since it’s such a limited number of players in a given year that fit into Seattle’s ideal profile for a running back, they have adopted some wiggle room, which can be averaged out to be: 4” in the broad jump (9’8”+), 1.5” in the vertical (33.5”+), 1.5” for height (5084+) and roughly three pounds (212+).
  • The result shown is the prospect’s best score in a given test. (E.g: Collins jumped a 28.5” vertical at the combine and a 32.5” vert as his pro day — the 32.5” number is what was used.)

The four glaring outliers - Collins, Chase Reynolds, Demitrius Bronson and Troymaine Pope - had short lived careers with the Seahawks; Reynolds and Bronson just a couple weeks of preseason each, Pope one shining preseason, and Collins was waived after just a season, being crowded out of a seemingly deep backfield. The only other outlier was Brooks and his 199-pound frame, which was likely outweighed by a phenomenal broad jump. His 10’09” at Clemson’s pro day would’ve been the fourth best figure at that year’s combine among running backs.

Having such specific measurements at a position has its upsides and downsides. It allows a team to acquire freaky athletes late in drafts, when other high testers go as early as day one. The selection of Chris Carson in the seventh-round is a great example of this. The rookie was available late in day three because of an unheralded college career with few starts, and only 82 carries in his senior season. But it was a shot on a player with ideal size for the position, and one who had the second best broad jump at his position at the combine, just an inch shorter than super-rookie Alvin Kamara.

Another upside is that it thins a muddied pool of prospects. Rather than wading through dozens of draft-eligible running backs, Seattle has a clear idea of what backs, and how many, they are targeting in a given year. On the flip-side, that’s likely the main drawback to such strict parameters. In some incredibly talented and deep drafts, the Seahawks have passed on outstanding players, instead going after players that fit their ideals but aren’t as promising of prospects.

Since 2010, the average number of running backs drafted in a year is 21. For Seattle, it’s just 2.25 that are ‘perfect’ according to their ideals in a given year, or 5.25 per year when you include running backs within their wiggle room. Including rookie free agents who stick on a 53-man roster come September, a rookie class of backs since 2010 averages around 24 — and that bumps the number of ‘perfect’ backs to 4.4 per year, or 9.4 inside the wiggle room. Here’s every running back since 2010 that would be included in these groups. An asterisk denotes they’re inside the wiggle room, a U indicates they were undrafted:

A couple notes:

  • There has been several players outside of the Seahawks’ wiggle room since 2010 who they almost certainly would’ve made an exception for - Ezekiel Elliott, Derrick Henry and Carlos Hyde being examples of players who fit Seattle’s ‘type’ at RB but didn’t hit on the measurements.
  • Staying consistent with their philosophy at running back, several players the Seahawks have brought in mid-season or as veteran free agents appear on the list: Mike Davis, Terrence Magee, Bryce Brown and Eddie Lacy.

The number of running backs available to Seattle fluctuates from year-to-year, from as many as 17 in 2015 to just three in Pete Carroll and John Schneider’s first draft. Making things worse, a fair number of the prospects who have fit into the team’s model over the years have never made an impact in the league: Of the 75 running backs listed since 2010, 18.6-percent of them have never, or are yet to have had a carry in the regular season. In other words: Of the 75 running backs deemed the Seahawks’ type during the PCJS-era, only 61 of them have even been good enough to carry the football in the regular season. Having the pool of draft-eligible running backs narrowed down to five a season can be a great boost to finding the team’s fit, but when almost two of them a season aren’t even good enough to make a 53-man roster, it severely hurts the team’s chances of acquiring long-term talent at the position.

Coming off of two of the team’s three worst seasons running the football in the Carroll-era, Seattle will be looking to add a running back in this year’s draft, likely on day two. Early on in the pre-draft process, it looks as though this year’s class is full of talented running backs who fit the Seahawks’ profile at the position: Damien Harris, Rashaad Penny, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Kerryon Johnson and Jaylen Samuels are just some of the names that could potentially end up in Seattle. However, as the previous years have shown, a given running back class isn’t nearly as deep to the Seahawks as it is to the NFL as a whole. There won’t be a clear idea of what running backs fit into what Seattle is looking for until after the combine and pro days have concluded. But, regardless of the group available to them, they have to find a consistent starter at the position if they’re going to continue operating as a running team.